Chicago Red Stars ready to start second part of 2020 season

  • Chicago Red Stars forward Savannah McCaskill (9) defends against Portland Thorns FC midfielder Emily Ogle (37) during the second half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match in July.

    Chicago Red Stars forward Savannah McCaskill (9) defends against Portland Thorns FC midfielder Emily Ogle (37) during the second half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match in July. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/11/2020 8:21 PM

The hunger is still there.

But in seeking their first championship, the Chicago Red Stars weren't totally heartbroken when they lost in the National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup championship game in July.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made soccer -- all sports, really -- different in 2020.

The Challenge Cup in July, held in a bubble in Utah, included only seven games. And the NWSL's fall series, which gets started for the Red Stars on the road Saturday (11 a.m., Twitch) against the Washington Spirit, includes only four games, two at home and two on the road.

With so few games, goals in 2020 are typically a little different, too.

"Different teams went into the Challenge Cup with different objectives," Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. "Some went in there with the objective to win, and credit to Houston, they did that (and defeated the Red Stars 2-0 in the championship game).

"We decided that we wanted to use those games (in Utah) to really get a good look at all of our players. We were allowed to take 28 players to Utah and we took 27, more than any other team. We used all of them. We wanted to see more of our younger players who don't usually get a lot of time.

"We had injuries to six or seven of our key players, and those younger players got a lot of time. We got a lot of film on them. And we overachieved. In a full-length season, do we make it to the finals doing that? Maybe. But we are happy we got there and we achieved our objective of helping some of these younger players get better for next year."

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Some of the younger players who rose to the occasion were defender Bianca St. Georges and forwards Savannah McCaskill and Katie Johnson.

"A player like St. Georges has been hurt for most of her two-year career, and she had a great tournament," Dames said. "And Savannah and Katie played bigger roles. We also got minutes for some of our new players like Rachel Hill and MaKenzy Doniak. We got to see their skills."

Dames plans to use the four games in the NWSL's Fall Series, which includes home games at SeatGeek stadium in Bridgeview on Sept. 20 (noon) and Sept. 26 (noon), in the same way, giving playing time to as many players as he can.

Star midfielder Julie Ertz has opted out of the Fall Series for the Red Stars, and some other regulars and veterans are unavailable due to commitments to teams overseas. That will simply give Dames even more flexibility for experimentation with his lineup.

"We were clear from the beginning (of July's Challenge Cup), that winning it wasn't our be-all, end-all because we wanted to get a lot of players minutes, and we still got to the championship game doing that," said Dames, who as a high school girls soccer coach at St. Viator won three IHSA state titles (2001, 2002, 2004).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I feel good about where we are as a team and where we are going. We've got a really good core of five to six players who have been together about six years, and I think they've got another two to three good years. And we've seen that we've got some really good young players, too."

Dames is hoping a mix of his veterans and emerging young players will help the Red Stars win the franchise's elusive first championship in 2021.

"Our players are itching for a championship," Dames said. "The Challenge Cup wasn't really (the championship) we wanted anyway. It would have been nice and we were ready for it, but we really have our eyes on next year."

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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